Enclothed Cognition & The Stanford Prison Experiment

Posted July 18, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Psychology / 0 Comments

The Lucifer EffectWhile reading The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil by Philip G. Zimbardo, I have found myself thinking a lot about the Stanford prison experiment. This psychological experiment was led by Zimbardo and this book is his first full account of what actually happened. The Stanford prison experiment was a study into the psychological effects of the prison experience which was conducted at Stanford University in 1971. The funding for this experiment was provided by the U.S. Office of Naval Research, with interest from both the Navy and Marine Corps into the relationship between military guards and prisoners.

I first learnt about the Stanford prison experiment thanks to watching Veronica Mars (“My Big Fat Greek Rush Week” S03E02). However reading through The Lucifer Effect, I did not expect there to be so many different psychological ideas going on at once. I know simulating an environment will need different researchers and involve a lot of analysis but I kept thinking of different things that will need to be looked at and the list kept growing and growing. Take for example the experiences the prisoners would feel, disorientation, de-personalisation (as well as dehumanisation) and so much more. It was interesting that the guards took on this mentality that this experiment was looking at prisoner behaviour and felt the need to take on the role of a stereotypical guard.

The term “enclothed cognition” sprung to mind while reading the book. An idea that the clothes that you wear can psychologically influence you. Within an experiment of enclothed cognition, some people are asked to perform brain exercises; half were dressed in a lab coat. The results ended up with the group wearing the lab coat performing better than the others. They then went on to give everyone a lab coat, half were told it was a painter’s coat and the others, a doctor’s coat. The results were similar, with the people wearing what they thought was a doctor’s coat performing better than the others. The application of a military uniform and reflective sun glasses seemed to have a dominating affect towards the treatment of the prisoners.

There is a lot more worth talking about, with the Stanford prison experiment but I will live it with those few ideas. I am working through The Lucifer Effect slowly and I might add more posts about what I have been thinking. However I would like to mention that there is a movie called The Stanford Prison Experiment about to be released about what happened in this study that looks fascinating. I am very interested in seeing how it translates but I am sure it will be traumatising.

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